Sep 18 2015

Why Real Estate Websites Feel at Home in the Cloud

Allowing companies such as Zillow and Redfin to scale services while lowering costs, cloud technology is essential to real estate websites’ success.

From browsing open houses to browsing the web, the steps to buying a home have changed.

“For Sale” yard signs no longer have the same punch. According to 2014 data from the National Association of REALTORS, 43 percent of homebuyers start their search online, and 92 percent of buyers turn to the Internet at some point during the process.

Perpetuating that trend, real estate websites such as Zillow, and Redfin attract more buyers all the time.

Zillow leads the market in unique site visitors. According to data from Experian Marketing Services, the real estate giant captured 23.4 percent of browser-based visits in July 2015; Zillow subsidiary Trulia accounted for another 8.1 percent of visitors. captured 10.7 percent of the market, while Redfin trailed at only 2.7 percent.

The market impact of these real estate websites is largely due to their thorough, convenient listings — complete with photos, home sale prices and neighborhood data — however, the cloud technologies behind the websites also contributes to their success.

For instance, in 2011, Zillow moved all of its Zestimates to the cloud in order to accommodate the increased computing demands of recalculating 15 years’ worth of home-value data for the entire country.

“To do that with on-premise hardware would have cost us tens of millions of dollars to buy that hardware, and it was prohibitively expensive, so we really had no choice but to move to the cloud,” CEO Spencer Rascoff said in an interview with Fortune.

The change not only improved the accuracy of Zillow’s Zestimate calculations but also cut costs. The company later experienced similar successes when it moved its huge stock of home photos to the cloud, reducing latency on desktop and mobile browsers.

Earlier this year, Zillow even purchased cloud-based startup dotloop to enable homebuyers to view, revise, sign and send real estate documents online.

In 2012, Zillow competitor Redfin made its own move to the cloud when it implemented Google Drive for document management. According to an article on, the switch facilitated collaboration between employees and created a leaner infrastructure.

Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman wrote about additional advantages of cloud technology on the company’s blog.

“[T]he data Redfin has about every possible combination of customers and properties would have once been prohibitively expensive to store,” he said, “but cloud technology has completely changed the economics and the science of real estate search.”